Federal government is running out of time to name a new ethics commissioner

28 February 2024
Federal government is running out of time to name a new ethics commissioner


With the interim commissioner’s term ending Thursday, opposition accuses government of dragging its heels. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it has started a process to name a new ethics commissioner — but it’s  not clear whether a new commissioner can be appointed before the current one leaves office.

Interim commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein’s mandate will end Thursday. It has been a year since Canada’s previous ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, retired.

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett suggested the government has delayed naming a new ethics commissioner because it wants to avoid scrutiny.

“It’s no surprise that Justin Trudeau has delayed and meddled in this appointment because without a commissioner, there’s no one to investigate him or his ministers,” he said.

If the ethics commissioner’s position is vacant, the commissioner’s office can’t conclude investigations or launch new ones into wrongdoing by members of Parliament or other public officials.

“Consultations are underway in support of a proposed nomination per the Act and an announcement of a nomination will be made in due course,” said Privy Council spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold. He said the process involves consulting party leaders and the adoption of a resolution by the House of Commons ratifying the appointment.

Bujold did not say whether a decision will be made before von Finckenstein’s mandate expires on Feb. 29.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet confirmed Tuesday evening that Blanchet has been “informed” of the government’s proposed candidate. Late last week, the Bloc said it had not yet been consulted.

The Conservative Party and the NDP have not yet responded to questions from CBC News Tuesday evening regarding whether their leaders have been consulted.

In his most recent appearance before the House of Commons ethics committee in January, von Finckenstein said he had not been consulted about a successor. When asked whether he had talked with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office about an appointment or reappointment, von Finckenstein declined to answer.

“Those are confidential conversations,” he said.

The commissioner’s position has been either vacant or filled on an interim basis for the past year.

A selection process for a new commissioner was launched on March 28, 2023, but the government has been tight-lipped about why it has taken so long.

Martine Richard was appointed interim ethics commissioner in March 2023 but stepped down on April 19 after it was revealed she was the sister-in-law of cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc. Von Finckenstein was named interim commissioner in August.

Barrett pointed to Richard’s nomination and suggested the government is trying to avoid scrutiny.

“Justin Trudeau has led the most ethically compromised government in Canadian history,” Barrett said. “He himself has twice been found guilty of breaking ethics laws and his government has been slapped with five ethics violations.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, Trudeau was caught appointing a top Liberal cabinet minister’s family member to the ethics commissioner post, trying to rig the deck from the inside.”

Barrett declined to say whether the Conservative Party has been consulted on a replacement. He called on the government to name someone who is beyond reproach and impartial.

Bloc Québécois MP René Villemure said he has no idea why it has taken the government so long.

“When there is no commissioner, no investigation can be started or concluded. So when there is no commissioner, the files accumulate on the desk of the next commissioner,” he said, pointing out that von Finckenstein inherited a big pile of files to deal with.

NDP ethics critic Matthew Green also called on the government to name a new ethics commissioner quickly.

“It’s a critical moment and it requires, I think, the full attention of a newly appointed commissioner to provide oversight on the scope of ethical breaches or allegations of ethical breaches that might come up from time to time in the House,” he said.

NDP calls out Liberals’ track record on appointments

Green said the Liberal government has a track record of problems with filling appointments but leaving the ethics post unfilled risks eroding public trust.

“It demonstrates a lack of seriousness by Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to have oversight and I think it further provides ammo to those who may have conspiratorial views around corruption and/or cover-up,” he said.

“We need to have someone who can provide that oversight who’s not political.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the appointment process has been shrouded in secrecy.

Naming interim commissioners instead of formally appointing a new commissioner has allowed the government to fill the position with hand-picked candidates without revealing how those interim commissioners were chosen, he said.

“It remains an open question whether the opposition parties will push for a qualified, independent and independent-minded ethics commissioner or whether they will roll over and allow the Trudeau cabinet to again handpick in secret another ethics lapdog who has a weak enforcement attitude and record,” said Conacher.

Source: cbc

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